A fast start and a terrific second half from senior center Justin Bessard and freshman guard Jared Brown propelled the Westmont men’s basketball team to an 84-76 victory over Division III opponent Pomona-Pitzer on Saturday night at Murchison Gym.
The Warriors jumped out to a 19-3 lead, and when the Sagehens cut the deficit to three in the second half, Bessard and Brown went to work. Bessard had 15 second-half points to finish with a game-high 27, and Brown added 13 in the second half to finish with 23.
Neither one of them were with the program last season — Bessard transferred in from Bellevue College in Nebraska, and Brown was a senior at Cypress High — but both are a big reason why Westmont has opened the season with five straight wins.
Pomona-Pitzer trailed by as many as 19 points, but a pair of made free throws by Micah Elan got the Sagehens to within 60-57 with 8:24 remaining in the second half.
That’s when Bessard took over the game, scoring seven of the Warriors next nine points to push their lead to 69-59 with 6:32 left.
“I think our team got a little rattled,” said Bessard, who finished 12 of 17 from the field. “I really liked the way our team bounced back on the defensive side and rebounding. I just did what I was supposed to do out there.
“I had to score to get our team in a position to win and stay undefeated.”
Westmont did a good job getting the ball to Bessard in the post and at the free-throw line, where he hit a right-elbow jumper during the Warriors’ crucial run.
“That’s one thing about our team, nobody cares about who shoots the ball,” Bessard added. “We’re a very unselfish team. I mean, we have different leading scorers almost every game. That’s how it’s going to be for the whole season. We’re going to have probably five dudes in double digits. We just have to keep working and keep moving the ball the way we do.”
Brown finished 8-for-15 from the field and 4-for-7 from three-point range as part of his big contribution to the Westmont win.
“Jared could end the season as our leading scorer, mark my words,” Warriors longtime coach John Moore said. “Jared Brown is a phenomenal basketball player. He had to guard their best player, and maybe he got a little fatigued in the second half, but I thought Jared was very, very special tonight, and will continue to be special for us.
“He’s learning very quickly as a freshman and understands how to run our offense. He’s very poised. He’s not a ball hog in any way. He is a guy who likes to share the ball. He has the best assist-to-turnover ratio on our team coming into tonight’s game.
Brown also finished with seven rebounds.
What made Westmont’s win even more impressive was the fact they played an opponent that returns a number of players who helped the program reach the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament last season.
“With as new a team as we have, I’m very proud of them,” Moore said. Pomona-Pitzer is very, very good. They’re going to get a lot of wins this season.”
The Warriors finished 33 of 67 (49 percent) from the field and 6-for-21 from beyond the three-point arc.
Westmont was also 12 of 15 (80 percent) from the free-throw line. Gyse Hulsebosch had a solid game, as well, for the Warriors (5-0) with 13 points. The game was Pomona-Pitzer’s season opener.
“We can shoot and we can score, it’s just a question of whether we can defend consistently,” Moore said. “As you saw in that second half, they came back to within three. But I thought we kept our poise in that situation.”
The Sagehens were led by Elan, who finished with 26 points on 9 of 14 from the field, 3-for-6 from three-point range and 5 of 6 at the free-throw line.